Greek Mining — The New York Times reports that cash-strapped Greece is approving new mines for revenue despite the environmental risks. As Athens struggles to raise cash, it is approving mining operations that do not meet environmental standards. “Perhaps as much as anything,” according to the Times, “the anger over the mines is a reflection of the fundamental distrust many Greeks feel toward their government: a firm belief that most officials are busy enriching themselves, their friends and their families at the country’s expense.”
Beijing Pollution — In China, the government has ordered official vehicles to stay off the roads of Beijing to curb air pollution that has smothered the capital for the past few days, notes Bloomberg. On Jan. 12, official measurements of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose health risks, reached as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in the city, compared with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines of no more than 25. The heavy smog, caused by the growth of heavy industries in areas around Beijing, is expected to persist until Jan 16. For more, TIME’s Hannah Beech has her take here.
Buddha as Weapon — India and China are using Buddhism as a way to expand their regional influence, sponsoring Buddhist conferences, financing religious sites and displaying relics in countries where Buddhism is widely practiced, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma reports Al Jazeera. New Delhi and Beijing are competing to engage with their South Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors for resources and business deals. According to the broadcaster, “Buddhism could well continue to be an important element of soft power that both India and China are likely to use in the years ahead to win hearts and minds across the vast continent.”
Hollande’s Tougher Image — A perceived soft and compromising stance has often led to him being dubbed “Flanby,” after a jelly-like caramel custard dessert, but French president François Hollande could soon begin to enjoy a stronger image, notes the New York Times. France’s recent military intervention in Mali and an audacious hostage rescue mission in Somalia point to a new, more decisive Hollande. “This is the first occasion Hollande had or seized upon to act decisively, without the sort of waffling that had appeared to be his trademark,” the daily quotes François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris“So in that sense,” he continues, “it changes his image instantaneously.”
Election Apathy — Many Arab Israelis are too demoralised to participate in the upcoming Israeli general election, notes the Economist. The socio-economic gap between Arabs — who make up one in five Israelis – and Jews is becoming greater, and Arab political parties have not managed to defeat laws, seen as unfavourable towards Arabs, passed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the outgoing parliament. The result: turnout among Arab Israelis has fallen from 75% in 1999 to 53% during the last election, and could this time fall below half, Asad Ghanem of Haifa University, who recently oversaw a survey of Arabs’ voting intentions, told the Economist.
Watch Out — Well-known for its affordable timepieces made from day-glow plastic, the world’s leading watchmaker Swatch said on Monday it would acquire U.S. jeweler and watchmaker Harry Winston – whose timepieces can retail for tens of thousands of dollars and have been seen on the wrists of countless celebrities — for up to $1 billion, reports the Daily Telegraph. ”Overall the purchase makes sense, especially if (Swatch) is trying to expand in the jewelry segment of the market,” Kepler analyst Jon Cox told the Dow Jones Newswires.